creativity exercise: 4 tips for more dramatic environmental portraits

small subject, big world creative photography tutorial

This month, we’ll focus on photographing the immensity of the world around us. Think about emphasizing the height, breadth, or depth of the environment and the elements therein. In many cases, this means shooting landscapes, cityscapes, or other wide angle approaches to nature or architecture.

small boat and fisherman on large lake by Megan Dill
*image by Megan Dill

Let’s take big world shooting a step further. Once you identify the scope of the environment you’ll be shooting, find a way to enhance the enormity of that environment by incorporating a person in the shot. Doing so accomplishes a few things: 1) it provides an identifiable sense of scale within the frame; and 2) it adds an emotionally familiar, psychologically relevant element.

Because we are emphasizing the magnitude of environment, the human figure will almost certainly appear quite diminutive within the frame. With conventional wisdom often advising photographers to “get closer,” doing just the opposite is part of what makes the tiny figure relative to the big world have such impact. At the same time, however, because of the relative smallness of the human subject, it can be more difficult to make the subject stand out. Here are a few ways to aid in ensuring the figure doesn’t become lost:

1) Utilize Color: A person in highly saturated clothing against a neutral or low-saturation background will powerfully draw the eye. For even more impact, think about the dominant color of the background, and – if possible – select or place a figure that is wearing a contrasting color. For example, shoot a subject in red against the greenery of a massive forest; shoot a subject in orange against a sprawling blue ocean and sky; or shoot a subject in purple against the sweeping, warm golden sands of a desert.

2) Utilize Negative Space: Particularly when you are shooting a vast landscape or other very open environment, making a single human subject the only interruption to the simplicity of the scene can be very effective. Try placing the person at the left edge of the frame to suggest an impending journey across the frame and open environment, or try placing the person at the right edge to allow the eye to carry across the frame and arrive at the human subject as a stopping point.

3) Utilize Tonal Contrast: A bright subject amidst a world enveloped in shadows or darkness — or closed in by imposing buildings, trees, etc — can be like a tiny beacon to which the eye is drawn. Conversely, a dark subject against a brighter background – such as a silhouette against a bright sky – can be equally effective.

Or deliberately hide your subject! 

On the flipside, perhaps you’d prefer to use the human figure to create unexpected impact. Think about whether you can draw the viewer into a barren, abandoned, or isolated environment, then allow the visual discovery of a subtly hidden subject to be a surprise. This positively jarring viewing experience can have significant emotional force and memorability.

Let’s see what you’ve got! Remember, for the purposes of this exercise, image will emphasize the magnitude of the environment and/or elements therein by including a human figure and framing so that the figure appears very small within the frame relative to the surrounding environment.

editors’ choice!

editors choice

Congratulations to the ladies below whose photographs were selected as this month’s Editors’ Choices!

Catherine Rodriguez ‘clickitycat’:

small subject, big world creative photography tutorial

Holly Thompson ‘HollyAnissa’:

small subject, big world creative photography tutorial

Erin Wagnild ‘erinbeth’:

small subject, big world creative photography tutorial

Lisa Nicole ‘lisa_nicole’:

small subject, big world creative photography tutorial

Clare ‘mamamoo’:

small subject, big world creative photography tutorial

Meredith Novario ‘mereditz’:

small subject, big world creative photography tutorial

Justine Knight ‘justinek’:

small subject, big world creative photography tutorial

Mickie DeVries ‘mickiedev’:

small subject, big world creative photography tutorial

Kat Gotschall ‘katgotschall’:

small subject, big world creative photography tutorial

Thank you to everyone who participated in the exercise!  We love seeing all the beautiful imagery!

Do you want to participate in the next Creativity Exercise?  Visit the forum here where Sarah has challenged us with the theme “High ISO Color Photography“.  Don’t have a membership to Clickin Moms yet?  Head on over here to sign up!  You can still participate in this ‘Big World’ challenge by either visiting the forum here or sharing with us in the comments below.  We’d love to see your work!

free creative photography exercises by Sarah Wilkerson for Clickin Moms


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